Reductive Production

As of late, I’ve felt that quite a few anime creators have been taking a reductive approach to determining what is necessary for a piece of fiction to actually work. They’re examining the innards of animation as a story-telling device, and removing seemingly vital organs in order to determine whether it was a heart or if it was just the tonsils. The three most prominent examples I can think of are Miyazaki, Oshii, and Kyoto Animation.

Miyazaki asks, “Do I really need a cohesive narrative when I just want to illustrate a series of events in animation?” and then creates Ponyo.

Oshii asks, “Does my movie really need to be actively engaging when I want to make a movie entirely about tedium?” and then creates Sky Crawlers.

Kyoto Animation asks, “Can a work be considered ‘new’ if everything BUT the story itself is entirely redone?” and then creates the Endless Eight portion of Haruhi.

In every instance here, creators are using their reputations to put surprisingly experimental animations in a public setting for mass consumption. In the case of Oshii and Miyazaki, it’s in the theater, and for Kyoto Animation it’s on TV in the form of one of the most popular anime in recent years. And with these experiments, they are asking a rather weighty question: what exactly is fiction? They’re asking themselves, asking the audience, asking the industry, and depending on the answer they receive, we may see more works like this or less.

How do you feel about this? Should creators be using such public settings to experiment to such an extent?

I feel like in every instance here, creators are using their reputations to put surprisingly experimental animations in a public setting for mass consumption. In the case of Oshii and Miyazaki, it’s in the theater, and for Kyoto Animation it’s on TV in the form of one of the most popular anime in recent years.
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9 thoughts on “Reductive Production

  1. Only if the experiment succeeds. Otherwise, to quote an old grandcester of mine, “Just because its different doesn’t necessarily mean its good. Just different.”

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  2. I love that they would do this, because one of the big problems I’ve had with anime is that a lot of it gets so stuck on trying to fit in all the things it thinks it needs that it leads to boring or uninteresting parts. I think Akiyuki Shino realized this a long time ago and made the SoulTaker and then did it to a more balanced extent in all of the rest of his works. He basically said ‘I want to make a fun show with trippy imagery, who the fuck cares if it has a deep and meaningful plot?’ And for people who require plots, it sucks, but we are not all those people, and some of us want to see a work do what it is good at instead of trying to cram in things that aren’t necessary.

    You could call such things ‘pretentious’ (and I will), but it leads to some excellent work when the creator is less concerned with appealing to everyone and their grandma and more concerned with appealing more strongly to the audience that will appreciate it. Andrew Cunningham brings this point up in his own review of Ponyo, the most positive of those I’ve seen, and I felt that way towards the Sky Crawlers, because as much as I am at ends with Oshii, I felt it was something he really wanted to do, and accomplished the way he wanted to.

    It’s hard to say anything about Endless eight because it’s background is so shady and controversial, and because I haven’t seen it, but I’m convinced I’ll love it.

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  3. Interesting way of looking at things. I don’t truly believe that any of what you said where truly the creators intentions, but of course nobody really knows. Speculation can be interesting, but we have to be mindful that it is baseless speculation.

    With Miyazaki, maybe he just doesn’t have it in him to work on aspects he doesn’t care as much about (story?) and is currently only concentrating on things he has a genuine passion about (imagery?). Without knowing enough about the artist and behind the scenes moves, I’m just making up a bunch of BS.

    Which is what I believe the blogosphere as a whole has been doing with Endless Eight. KyoAni wants to troll the fans. KyoAni wants to make a point about mindless consumption. Etc, etc. I think that’s all BS too. I think they had undertaken what they (and I) believe to be a move with artistic merit outside of meta nonsense fans seem to be so caught up with. But then of course, I know just as much about what happens at KyoAni as every other blogger out there…

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  4. Where else would they experiment? In private within their studios? How would they know the effects of their work? Especially when considering that in theater the media is still viewed as art. Sure, we’re paying to be entertained but we’re also looking for something to challenge our interest in the medium. For this reason we can forgive Miyazaki and Oshii for pushing what they consider to be the envelope in storytelling. And with that new frontiers are explored as they have been since movies were invented.

    I dare say that this could potentially apply to TV as well but, I don’t watch much TV outside of the anime I see on my computer and DVDs so my opinion is skewed. Also, I’m cynical about TV (mostly about American TV but I don’t know enough about Japanese TV again, outside of anime) so I have to recuse myself from commenting on it.

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  5. “Should creators be using such public settings to experiment to such an extent?”

    Hell yes. How else will they know what’s a failure and what’s success otherwise?

    As Michael | Low on Hit Points suggests, it’s impossible to know for certain what the true intentions of the creator are, so the best one can do is speculate. We can speculate that these particular creators experimented, with mixed success. Given that, there’s probably not too much controversy with suggesting that Endless Eight was a failure, but that’s ok. Personally, I’m not going to decry that they tried, since I see that as a good thing. I’m going to decry that they failed, which, in my opinion, is a separate issue. It’s one thing to criticize them for running an experiment and finding that it falls short of expectations. That’s fair, IMO. It’s another, much less fair thing to say that they should have known it was going to fail and never attempted it at all in the first place. How could they have possibly known? Isn’t that the point of an experiment in the first place… to find out the unknown, to find out whether it could work or not.

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  6. I highly doubt that is what they were doing, but my answer is no. Things don’t happen that way; to much money at stake. The world of art is behind closed doors. No one is going to risk a team’s paycheck for experiments, especially not in Japan.

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  7. As Scott McCloud said about The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln, if you know ahead of time whether it will succeed it’s not an experiment. We wouldn’t want great artists to stop experimenting and trying new things (that path leads to awesome crazy artists becoming bland, inoffensive parodies of themselves, like Jefferson Airplane -> Starship) so the price we pay is that they occasionally fail. Hopefully they learn from their failures and produce new great work next time.

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  8. Pingback: Mistakes of Youth: The Blog (Powered by EXCELLENCE!) » Blog Archive » Endless Eight continues forever

  9. I agree with @rikchik. Experimentation is crucial to the progress of film, and art, and literature, and music. Heck it’s crucial to most everything we do as people.

    Even if the majority of viewers fail to see the need, or even notice when something stretches the boundaries of whats been done I feel it impact is profound.

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